My best teacher - Sally Gunnell

20th March 2009 at 00:00
A primary teacher who wasn't sporty at all gave the Olympic athlete the praise she needed to put her on the right track

The teacher that had the most influence on my life was Miss Kaye. She taught me at Chigwell County Primary School from the ages of 10 until about 12. She taught a lot of different subjects, but most importantly she was the one who taught us sport and took us to all sorts of different gymnastics and running events.

She was a strict, larger-than-life lady and would have been in her fifties when she was teaching us. Her hair was short and brown, and she was domineering with quite mannish features. Miss Kaye wasn't sporty herself whatsoever and was quite a big lady with a deep voice. She was definitely the strictest out of all the teachers.

I don't think many of my classmates would have put her as their favourite teacher to be honest - she wasn't friendly and was almost headmistressy, but I suppose she had a bit of a soft spot for me because I was good at running.

She encouraged me to take part in gymnastics from when I was about 10 and would put me in for competitions. When I was getting ready to leave the school, she told me that I was talented and that I should join a club.

I was good at gymnastics and athletics at that stage and wasn't sure which way to go. I talked to her about which one I should follow up and she encouraged me to go down the athletics route, so I have a lot to thank her for.

Sometimes in life you need someone to push you and say you're good enough to do something, and give you that opportunity in life. My parents were also encouraging - after all, they had to drive me to everything - but she would have spoken to them at various sporting events and told them how I was getting on.

Miss Kaye was one of those teachers who was always strict on school uniform. I remember having to do handstands to make sure I was wearing my navy blue knickers. You could always hear her voice booming across the playground telling people off. She always called people by their surnames as well. You would never have played up in front of her.

At primary school, we did a bit of everything - a bit of rounders, a bit of gymnastics - but lessons were much more structured when I went on to West Hatch High School in Chigwell.

There were six PE teachers - three men for the boys and three women for the girls. Our head of PE was strict, but the other two teachers were nice. They were only about six or seven years older than me. A couple of my friends got friendly with one of them and when we left school, they would come out drinking with us.

My youngest has just started school, but the two eldest - aged 10 and eight - are keen on sport. It's their favourite subject and a part of their lives. Their experience of school seems similar to mine - they still have strict guidelines and you can see the teachers they're scared of. You realise how influential the PE teachers can be.

I didn't see Miss Kaye again. I was on This is Your Life a while back, but she'd died by that point, which was sad. She's the one I remember more than all the others.

Sally Gunnell is an ambassador for the first National Family Week, May 25 to 31, which celebrates positive family life. Visit www.nationalfamilyweek.co.uk. She was talking to Meabh Ritchie.

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